Monday, October 3, 2011

How To Read Yarn Labels

When you go to a craft store (and it's a good idea to do so until you're very comfortable with yarn. Buying on the Internet is tricky since you can't feel it or see the true, real-life color), you will see many balls of yarn. These balls are called skeins ("skeynz"), and they will generally have paper labels. These labels are covered in a secret code of symbols, abbreviations, and who-knows-what.

Learning what the symbols and abbreviations mean is very important to choosing your yarn. Here is an explanation of what to look for on a label.

How Much Yarn

You need to know how much yarn you're getting. There are two ways to tell, length and weight.

Yarn is sold by weight--ounces or grams, depending on where you live--so you will often see "Net Wt" on the label. The most common sizes are 25g, 50g, and 100g; or 3oz, 4oz, 6oz, and 8oz. (I don't know how these measurements transfer from system to system. Some companies sell by grams, some by ounces. You may have to use some math.)

Some yarns also have a length measurement in yards or meters. Sometimes this measurement is more helpful. For instance, a baby blanket requires about 1000 yards. When I was making my cousin's four-color baby blanket, I made sure to buy enough of each color so the lengths added to over 1000 (that was four skeins, by the way).

Yarn Content

Basically, this means "what is my yarn made of?". There are many options, but the most popular is 100% acrylic. It's everywhere, it's cheap, and it can be pretty.

However, if you...
  • are opposed to synthetics
  • are allergic to acrylic (I know a crocheter who is!)
  • are making useful items like dishcloths or potholders (I'll explain why later)
  • have any other reason for not wanting 100% acrylic yarn

...there are many other options. Here are just a few:
  • Cotton
  • Alpaca
  • Angora
  • Polyester
I even have yarn that is 10% olefin, whatever that is!

This is different from the measurement of how much yarn you have (I know, this is confusing). A better word would probably be "thickness", but the proper term is "weight".

There are various yarn weights, and the lines between them are blurred, but for the most part you will know what you're getting based on the weight. (This is something I know little about, so I'm referring to the Craft Yarn Council table here for help.)

These are the symbols you might see:

lacesuper fine finelightmediumbulkysuper bulky

These are the weights. Yarn categories (like worsted, sport, rug, and bulky) are organized under these weights.
The most common yarn is "worsted weight", which is a medium (4). This is the yarn most projects call for.

Yarn is made of a bunch of fibers twisted into little ropes, which are twisted together to make a single strand. "Ply" just tells you how many little ropes are twisted together. The two yarns sitting in front of me right now are 4 ply and 3 ply.
I don't actually know why this matters. Tell me if you figure it out.

Hook Size

This looks like it's in the wrong lesson, I know. And we'll get to hook sizing in the next lesson, because that is also very important. For now, hang in there.
Somewhere on the yarn label, there should be a little symbol that looks like a crochet hook. (You should all know what a crochet hook looks like. If you don't, Google it.) This image should also contain a measurement in millimeters, and a letter-dash-number which is the US hook size.
This is the recommended hook size for the yarn you are holding. Anything smaller will produce tighter stitches, anything bigger will produce looser stitches. The recommended hook size is what someone decided produces the most perfectly-sized stitches. This is important.
Sometimes it also has an inches-by-inches measurement, and a number followed by a capital "r". This means that in a square this big, you should get that many rows. This is an inaccurate measure, though, if the stitches you are using are a different size.
Note: There is also a symbol for knitting, which is either two crossed needles, or one straight needle.
Care Instructions

Some yarn can be thrown in the washing machine and the dryer, some is lay-flat- or hang-to-dry, and some is hand-wash-only. Knowing how to care for your yarn is very important, since some yarns will shrink or deform in the wash.

Most yarns have care instructions on the back of the label (the side facing the yarn), and many will have the universal "how to clean" symbols.

This is a good guide to the universal "how to clean" symbols you may find on yarn (and clothes, too!).

Dye Lot

This refers to the color of the yarn. 

Most yarns are dyelotted, which means (as far as I can tell) that the company mixes up a huge batch of dye and uses it to color a whole bunch of yarn, which is sold in multiple skeins at about the same time. The next batch of dye might be a very slightly different color, which can make your projects look kind of funny. For dyelotted yarn, it's best to buy all of your yarn for that project from the same dyelot.

The dyelot is indicated by a number somewhere on the label. If the numbers on two skeins of the same color are the same, they are the same dyelot. If not, try again until you find two that match.

Note: Sometimes you may not find enough skeins of the same dyelot to complete your project. You can either shop around and try to find more, or buy as many of the same dyelot as you can, and supplement with either a different dyelot, or a different color (depending on the project and your preferences). It's not a big deal if your dyelots are different. One way to deal with this is to alternate skeins--a few rows from one, a few rows from the other. This gives a 'shading' effect that avoids an obvious line.

Some yarn is labeled "No Dye Lot", which means you don't have to worry about that. I'm not sure how this works, but apparently all the yarn of that color is the same color, and there is no need to match dyelots. This is awesome for new crocheters.

Label Self-Test
All right. I have now explained how to read the labels on yarns.

Now it's your turn. Here is an example yarn label I pulled off the Internets somewhere.

I want you to try to figure out what all this means. Look carefully. Refer to the above text and that "how to clean" chart if you must.

Try to answer the following questions:
  • What weight of yarn do you have?
  • What is the content of the yarn?
  • How many skeins should you buy to make a baby blanket (approximately)?
  • How should you clean it?
  • What size hook should you use?

Now go forth and purchase yarn!

1 comment:

  1. I answered the test and then Google was like "hahahahahahahaha no!" ):
    -Love Mabbie


Feel free to leave comments: I love hearing from you!